How to Identify Depression in Teens

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For most parents, it can be a challenge to identify, or even begin to understand, teen depression. Teens and young children are notoriously moody and unpredictable as their emotions and actions are shaped by hormones, peer pressure, and conflicting responsibilities between school, family, work, and friends. For many, they’re also first experiencing the trials and tribulations of romantic relationships. All of this combined, teens are truly going through a lot.

Here, we’re taking a closer look at depression in teens to help you better understand this mental health condition. First, we define depression, and then differentiate the specific types. The article then runs through specific warning signs that your teen might be suffering from depression and concludes with common treatment options.


While everyone feels sad or depressed at times, suffering from the actual mental health condition is much different. According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression is a medical illness that negatively affects your feelings, the way you think, and how you then act. Depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is a common medical issue that affects millions of people all over the world—teenagers included.


Depression can be difficult to identify because there are several specific types of this mental health disorder. While doctors have identified nine unique types of depression, there are four main types that commonly affect teenagers: major depression, bipolar disorder, adjustment disorder with depressed mood, and dysthymia. Here’s a closer inspection of these four major types of teen depression:

1.     Major depression.

Experienced by both teens and adults, this is a fairly common form of depression that is also referred to as “classic” or “unipolar” depression. This is one of the most serious types of depression because it is all-encompassing. Teens with major depression will usually experience depression symptoms, such as unexplained pain, lack of interest, or anxiety, on an extended basis. Episodes may last for days or even weeks and have no clear explanation.

2.     Bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by a cycle of two extremes: manic episodes followed by periods of depression. During the manic stage, teens will exhibit high energy, lack of focus, and may engage in high-risk activities. During the depressive stage, they will exhibit depressive symptoms, such as low energy, restlessness, sadness, and lack of interest. These swift and sudden mood changes can make it particularly hard for teenagers to keep up with their school responsibilities and social lives.

3.     Adjustment disorder with depressed mood.

Following a major life change or disruption, teens may experience a period of depression. Understood as an adjustment disorder with depressed mood, this can arise following a move, death of a loved one, loss of a friend, or a parent’s divorce. Generally, this form of depression lasts around six months. If the depressive state lasts longer, a major depression diagnosis may be more accurate.

4.     Dysthymia.

Also known as persistent depressive disorder, dysthymia is a lower grade form of depression that lasts for around a year. While not as serious as major depression, dysthymia can be a major disruption in a teen’s busy life. They may feel anxious, have low energy, and experience disruptions to their normal eating or sleeping habits.


Yes, depression can be a genetic mental health disorder. If someone in your family suffers from depression, there is a higher chance (although not a guarantee) that your teen may also experience this mental health disorder at some point in their lives. 




The occasional bad mood, lack of interest, or unpredictable behavior is expected from any teenager; however, depression is far more serious and all-encompassing. This disorder can reshape their relationships, hurt them in school, and even lead to drug or alcohol addiction. For parents, being able to identify depression in their teens is the critical first step. Here, we run through some of the most common signs and symptoms of depression in teens:


·      Anger and hostility.

·      Difficulty concentrating.

·      Unexplainable physical pain.

·      Fatigue.

·      Lack of energy or enthusiasm.

·      Crying outbursts.

·      Poor performance in school.

·      Distancing themselves off from friends.

·      Restlessness and irritability.

·      Significant changes in sleeping or eating habits.

·      Feelings of worthlessness.

·      Suicidal thoughts.





If you believe your teen is experiencing depression—don’t despair and don’t give up hope. Many teens all over the world experience depression and many have found effective treatment options. There are even professional residential programs for teens designed to treat depression and other mental health issues.


In addition to residential treatment centers, there are two primary forms of treatment for teens with depression: psychotherapy or medication. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can be performed in a variety of settings and aims to help individuals understand and cope with a variety of mental health conditions and emotional challenges. Psychotherapy can be performed in a one-on-one (between the patient and the therapist) or in a group or family setting. For teen depression, family therapy can be particularly effective because their condition, most likely, is having an impact on everyone in the household.


As an alternative to psychotherapy, or sometimes as a complementary approach to treatment, medication may also be prescribed to help treat your teen’s depression. However, since antidepressants may have substantial side effects, including thoughts of self-harm, this treatment option should only be explored with the close supervision and support of a licensed medical professional. 




It’s no simple task being able to identify the signs of depression in teens. How, as a parent, are you expected to know the difference between an occasional bad mood (which we all experience) and major depressive disorder? While almost every teen is notoriously “moody,” at times, not all teens suffer from depression.

If you believe your teen is experiencing depression, it’s important to have an open and honest conversation with them. This initial step can help you better understand how you can help them through this disorder. Then, you should contact your doctor to learn more about depression in teens and see which treatment option may be the best for your family.


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